(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on Jan. 17, 2014)
“Death by Chocolate” has always been a hit with diners at Chuck’s Waterfront Grill. It’s a homemade chocolate pie on an Oreo cookie crust, generously drizzled with raspberry sauce and adorned with a hatchet made of white chocolate. This playful take on a gruesome murder scene is so decadent, the menu says it all: “It’s to die for.”
This sweet treat will take on new meaning tonight, though, when the restaurant hosts its very first murder mystery dinner, Murder on the Waterfront.
“No one’s doing it in town, and I can’t remember the last time Santa Barbara has done one of these at a restaurant,” says Susie Couch, who co-wrote the interactive experience with local author and set designer, William York-Hide. She also owns Prism Productions, which is producing the scare-affair.
“There are two scary things about putting on a mystery dinner show,” she says. “You need actors who are good with improv, and a lot depends on the audience.”
Ms. Couch thinks she’s got those areas covered, though. Six actors are on the bill, all versed in the spontaneous art of improvisation and each having contributed significantly to the development of their characters. And as for the audience, “they’ll have a chance to get involved if they want to or, if they prefer, just watch and enjoy from the sidelines,” says Ms. Couch.
|Chuck's Waterfront Grill is perched on the Santa Barbara Habor|
The affair is inspired by the restaurant, itself, which is popular as much for its surf-and-turf menu as for the sweeping views of the boats, the ocean and the mountains from its marina-side perch. “We’ve catered it to yacht-y people – it’s a yacht cast, a yacht story,” says Ms. Couch. “In that sense, characters may or may not be identifiable to the patrons of the Waterfront.”
And the producer gives few details beyond that. This is, after all, a mystery.
Ms. Couch and her husband, David, are well known in the Santa Barbara theater community. They’ve been running the shows at Circle Bar B Dinner Theater in Goleta for more than a decade; the 2014 season there, which will feature four shows, will run April through October. Putting on special events separately, like this first-ever murder mystery dinner, is “something we’re finding ourselves doing in the off season,” she says.
As the upcoming whodunit unfolds, guests will be treated to a three-course dinner featuring some of the restaurant’s best-known dishes, like their award-winning clam chowder and a choice of the sesame-crusted halibut or the sirloin with sautéed mushrooms and onions. And no matter who does do it, everyone gets Death by Chocolate in the end.
This will be a marketing exercise, of sorts, for Chuck’s Waterfront Grill. Since it is low season in the local food tourism scene, “this was the right time for us to think out of the box,” says owner Steve Hyslop. And if the event is a success, repeat performances are likely.
“We’d rewrite the story every time, so people could easily watch it more than once,” adds Ms. Couch.
The event takes over Chuck’s Waterfront Grill Wednesday, January 22nd, at 6:30pm. Tickets, which will be capped at 60, are $68. For reservations, call the restaurant at 805-564-1200 or email Mr. Hyslop at email@example.com.